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What’s new with ammonia?

By Andrew Perks

Linde and HIVE are planning a 780 000 ton/year green ammonia export plant at Nelson Mandela Bay.

You may ask yourself why they would want to do that. Hang onto your hat, you are about to see ammonia in a different light!
Not only is ammonia one of the most efficient refrigerants – it could be the answer to the energy needs of the future. Keep in mind, it is a natural refrigerant and therefore does not affect the ozone layer or cause climate change. Even as an energy source it will be climatically friendly.

Lest you have forgotten, ammonia’s chemical formula is NH3. That is one particle of nitrogen and three parts of hydrogen. It’s the hydrogen that makes ammonia hazardous but it’s also the Hydrogen that makes it useful as an energy source. As ammonia, all the particles are bound together, so it is easy to transport – as illustrated in the images within this article.

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The fact that hydrogen is one of the lightest gases we know after helium allows us, with the correct process, to split ammonia into its base components. Starting to make sense? So much so that we now have an ammonia energy industry. Back in the day who would have thought this to be the reality of today?

“There are major “green” ammonia projects and bunkering studies being undertaken all over the world.”

This opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Currently ammonia is being used experimentally to fuel cars and ships – this is not new and has been going on since the last war. With motor cars using ammonia as the energy source the only emission is water vapour.
Thus, there are major “green” ammonia projects and bunkering studies being undertaken all over the world. For anyone that is interested, have a look at the Ammonia Energy Association website – and you will be amazed.

A couple of years ago, the Ammonia Safety & Training Institute (ASTI) took the decision to develop training programmes for use in the ammonia energy industry. In the middle of the Covid pandemic they delivered the first three sessions introducing ammonia safety training courses to the Singapore Ammonia Bunker Fuel Group. The images included are a couple of slides used in one of those sessions.

ASTI realised that the skillsets required in the ammonia energy industry are quite different to the ammonia refrigeration industry in that the level of prior knowledge is negligible for those attending the training courses. In order to cope with that, ASTI developed a course “ammonia 101” session for the energy industry. A Perks Enterprises believes that we are in the unique position along with ASTI to bring this specialised safety training for the ammonia energy industry to South Africa.

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The fact is that we are developing a new ammonia industry in Gqeberha – projected to come online in 2025 and at full capacity in 2026 means that we need to be in a position to supply this type of training and certification. The project is said to be looking at filling up to 10 000 jobs when completely operational. The need for safety and operational training is therefore massive.

One of the problems with the current training programmes in South Africa is that we really only have a skills program for artisan training. You have to start somewhere but we also need to add those specific skills required to actually operate in the field.

We are looking forward to some exciting times in 2022. We plan on forming a closer relationship with the Ammonia Safety Training Institute from the USA. Anyone in the know in the industry will recognise ASTI as a world leader in training material and application courses. They have built their programmes around the standards developed by the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration IIAR, another world leader in standardising training and standards in the ammonia industry.

We are committed to bringing this material along with our own hard-earned knowledge to the local industry, so keep an eye on this space.

About Andrew Perks

Image credit: Andrew Perks
Image credit: Andrew Perks

Andrew Perks is a subject expert in ammonia refrigeration. Since undertaking his apprenticeship in Glasgow in the 1960s he has held positions of contracts engineer, project engineer, refrigeration design engineer, company director for a refrigeration contracting company and eventually owning his own contracting company and low temperature cold store. He is now involved in adding skills to the ammonia industry, is merSETA accredited and has written a variety of unit standards for SAQA that define the levels to be achieved in training in our industry.

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